Will the New Generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs) Really Influence Internet User’s Experience?
This was one of the topics of discussion during the gTLD program at the International Trademark Association annual meeting today and it is no small question for brand owners. Companies who have applied for various generic gTLDs are betting that it will. Donuts, for example, has applied for over 300 new gTLDs. They believe that domain name space is the “fulcrum of commercial online navigation” and, I suspect, that internet users will tend to either look for or prefer websites at TLDs that match their interest. Brand owners that I talk to are not so sure, but many of them are not taking any chances and are either themselves applicants for TLDs that match their brands or are looking to register their brands with the ICANN trademark clearing house.
In an interesting development reported by Search Engine Land on May 3, Google is apparently testing a user interface that would eliminate any display of the URL associated with the websites returned in its organic search results. Links to screenshots of these tests were reportedly Tweeted by @tecnonetblog. Here is what one of these screenshots looks like.
You can see the other screenshot here.
I’m sure that Google frequently tests all kinds of variations to its user interfaces (many of which likely never get rolled out) and so I’m reluctant to make too much of this. That said, this does suggest that someone at Google is thinking that, perhaps, Internet users are more concerned with the subject matter of the content they seek than they are with the domain name or address at which it appears on the Internet. If so, then the new gTLDs may not have such a significant impact on Internet user search behavior. I suspect, however, that this is too simplistic an approach.
At the risk of being bold, I would predict that Internet user search behavior will evolve with the way in which the new gTLDs are actually used. In other words, if it turns out that a new gTLD URL is a predictive variable in determining the relevancy of organic search results to Internet users, then search engines will adjust their algorithms and the applicable weighting coefficients so as to use the new gTLDs in analyzing what search results to serve up in response to a particular query. In some cases the new gTLDs URL may be more predictive or relevant and will therefore have a more significant impact on search engine optimization and in others the opposite may be the case. This may more likely be the case where content that appears under certain gTLDs is limited to or focused on a particular genre.
In any event, it will sure be interesting to see how it unfolds. Perhaps I will look back at this blog post many years from now and see whether my prediction was right.